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6 Hard Truths About Volunteering Abroad That No One Will Tell You

6 Hard Truths About Volunteering Abroad That No One Will Tell You

When you want to travel and do some charity work at the same time, volunteering abroad seems to be the best option. It’s also a great option for students who want to travel but are short on money. The prospect of traveling cheap and helping people is very seductive, so before you know it, you may find yourself teaching English in South America or helping medical staff in an AIDS clinic in Africa. On paper it’s all nice, but the harsh reality might be way too much for you. When I traveled to Romania to help children in remote villages in the Carpathian mountains, I wasn’t ready for what I found. Here are the hard truths no one is telling you about volunteering abroad.

1. Fundraising is an important part of volunteering abroad

When you sign up to volunteer abroad, you need to know these organizations need both your work and money. This is why fundraising is mandatory in most cases. Before you leave, the organization may ask you to raise some funds to validate your spot among the volunteers. Some organizations will ask you to fundraise while volunteering.

There are some organizations which can cover the cost of your accommodations because they get help from locals who volunteer to shelter people who come to help them.

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However, you need to make sure the money you are raising is going to the right places, so ask the organization how they will use the money you send. The right answers are for providing food, equipment, and supplies for volunteers like you and the locals. Another thing you’ll want to research before sending the money is if the actions taken by the organization are ethical and really help the local communities. Unfortunately, there are places where volunteers do more harm than good.

2. Find the right volunteer program for you

I am not the person to build houses — my skills in crafting are limited to understanding the difference between a nail and a hammer. However, I do have excellent communication skills and I know how to attract kids and make them listen to me. So, I went on and worked with kids during my volunteering abroad experience.

Picking the right volunteer program for you is essential because not all programs are a good fit for your abilities. Before you enrol in a program, make sure you are a good candidate. You may want to work as a nurse, but if you become sick from seeing blood, this is not the right position for you.

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3. Your volunteer work is not an employment guarantee

After working as a volunteer in an organization, there is no guarantee someone will actually hire you or will help you extend your visa. Yes, these things happen, but they happen to a small number of volunteers, so don’t rely on this. All you can do is dedicate yourself to your work and connect with as many organizations, businesses, and people as you can.

4. It will be bad

Now comes the really hard part of this article: volunteering abroad is not all smiles and cocktails — it will have a bad side! When you arrive at your site, you may be greeted by the poorest, illest-looking person you’ve ever seen in your life. Disease and a lack of the basic features of a home, such as tap water and medicines, are going to shock you. Then you will have to face the realities of surviving a couple of months sleeping in tiny huts or dorms, eating the same food every day. Volunteering is going to show you just how weak you are, but also how strong you are. On your first day, you won’t even be able to look at the dirty, emaciated people around you; on your last day, you will look straight into their eyes.

5. The problems will be worse than you’ve imagined

Many volunteers start their adventure abroad thinking they will go there and eradicate any trace of disease, poverty, and illiteracy in the area. The reality is more cruel than this sweet dream: you won’t make a hugely significant difference! Your volunteering abroad time is only going to help a couple of poor kids learn how to say “thank you” in English. Or perhaps you will help a mother with AIDS deliver a healthy baby. You won’t change the world nor the local community, but the small changes still mean something.

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6. Volunteering abroad will make you feel useless

Because you will discover a new world, where nothing is like you’ve seen in pictures or on TV, volunteering abroad will make you feel useless. Most of the time, you will be “just a volunteer” who will be sent to bring a bucket of water or left out of important matters, because you will leave in couple of weeks. This will make your feelings of uselessness even worse, but you need to be firm and positive. Focus on what you can do and learn to love it! If you work with people, try to ignore their coolness and do your job well. They will learn to love you!

Empowering, fulfilling, and amazing – this is real-life volunteering!

Volunteering abroad can be an empowering, fulfilling, and amazing experience, but it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. Make sure you stay realistic about your new adventure and do as much research as you can so you won’t be taken by surprise when you land in a remote area.

When you are faced with the hard truth of volunteering, you will discover a side of your personality you never knew you had. You will learn how strong you are, even if you end up crying every day for the first two weeks.

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Volunteering abroad, regardless where and how you do it, is going to leave a strong mark on you. Some day, despite the hard stuff, you might even want to do it all over again.

Featured photo credit: Visions Service Adventures/Flickr via flickr.com

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Last Updated on January 21, 2020

The Best Way to Create a Vision for the Life You Want

The Best Way to Create a Vision for the Life You Want

Creating a vision for your life might seem like a frivolous, fantastical waste of time, but it’s not: creating a compelling vision of the life you want is actually one of the most effective strategies for achieving the life of your dreams. Perhaps the best way to look at the concept of a life vision is as a compass to help guide you to take the best actions and make the right choices that help propel you toward your best life.

your vision of where or who you want to be is the greatest asset you have

    Why You Need a Vision

    Experts and life success stories support the idea that with a vision in mind, you are more likely to succeed far beyond what you could otherwise achieve without a clear vision. Think of crafting your life vision as mapping a path to your personal and professional dreams. Life satisfaction and personal happiness are within reach. The harsh reality is that if you don’t develop your own vision, you’ll allow other people and circumstances to direct the course of your life.

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    How to Create Your Life Vision

    Don’t expect a clear and well-defined vision overnight—envisioning your life and determining the course you will follow requires time, and reflection. You need to cultivate vision and perspective, and you also need to apply logic and planning for the practical application of your vision. Your best vision blossoms from your dreams, hopes, and aspirations. It will resonate with your values and ideals, and will generate energy and enthusiasm to help strengthen your commitment to explore the possibilities of your life.

    What Do You Want?

    The question sounds deceptively simple, but it’s often the most difficult to answer. Allowing yourself to explore your deepest desires can be very frightening. You may also not think you have the time to consider something as fanciful as what you want out of life, but it’s important to remind yourself that a life of fulfillment does not usually happen by chance, but by design.

    It’s helpful to ask some thought-provoking questions to help you discover the possibilities of what you want out of life. Consider every aspect of your life, personal and professional, tangible and intangible. Contemplate all the important areas, family and friends, career and success, health and quality of life, spiritual connection and personal growth, and don’t forget about fun and enjoyment.

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    Some tips to guide you:

    • Remember to ask why you want certain things
    • Think about what you want, not on what you don’t want.
    • Give yourself permission to dream.
    • Be creative. Consider ideas that you never thought possible.
    • Focus on your wishes, not what others expect of you.

    Some questions to start your exploration:

    • What really matters to you in life? Not what should matter, what does matter.
    • What would you like to have more of in your life?
    • Set aside money for a moment; what do you want in your career?
    • What are your secret passions and dreams?
    • What would bring more joy and happiness into your life?
    • What do you want your relationships to be like?
    • What qualities would you like to develop?
    • What are your values? What issues do you care about?
    • What are your talents? What’s special about you?
    • What would you most like to accomplish?
    • What would legacy would you like to leave behind?

    It may be helpful to write your thoughts down in a journal or creative vision board if you’re the creative type. Add your own questions, and ask others what they want out of life. Relax and make this exercise fun. You may want to set your answers aside for a while and come back to them later to see if any have changed or if you have anything to add.

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    What Would Your Best Life Look Like?

    Describe your ideal life in detail. Allow yourself to dream and imagine, and create a vivid picture. If you can’t visualize a picture, focus on how your best life would feel. If you find it difficult to envision your life 20 or 30 years from now, start with five years—even a few years into the future will give you a place to start. What you see may surprise you. Set aside preconceived notions. This is your chance to dream and fantasize.

    A few prompts to get you started:

    • What will you have accomplished already?
    • How will you feel about yourself?
    • What kind of people are in your life? How do you feel about them?
    • What does your ideal day look like?
    • Where are you? Where do you live? Think specifics, what city, state, or country, type of community, house or an apartment, style and atmosphere.
    • What would you be doing?
    • Are you with another person, a group of people, or are you by yourself?
    • How are you dressed?
    • What’s your state of mind? Happy or sad? Contented or frustrated?
    • What does your physical body look like? How do you feel about that?
    • Does your best life make you smile and make your heart sing? If it doesn’t, dig deeper, dream bigger.

    It’s important to focus on the result, or at least a way-point in your life. Don’t think about the process for getting there yet—that’s the next stepGive yourself permission to revisit this vision every day, even if only for a few minutes. Keep your vision alive and in the front of your mind.

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    Plan Backwards

    It may sound counter-intuitive to plan backwards rather than forwards, but when you’re planning your life from the end result, it’s often more useful to consider the last step and work your way back to the first. This is actually a valuable and practical strategy for making your vision a reality.

    • What’s the last thing that would’ve had to happen to achieve your best life?
    • What’s the most important choice you would’ve had to make?
    • What would you have needed to learn along the way?
    • What important actions would you have had to take?
    • What beliefs would you have needed to change?
    • What habits or behaviors would you have had to cultivate?
    • What type of support would you have had to enlist?
    • How long will it have taken you to realize your best life?
    • What steps or milestones would you have needed to reach along the way?

    Now it’s time to think about your first step, and the next step after that. Ponder the gap between where you are now and where you want to be in the future. It may seem impossible, but it’s quite achievable if you take it step-by-step.

    It’s important to revisit this vision from time to time. Don’t be surprised if your answers to the questions, your technicolor vision, and the resulting plans change. That can actually be a very good thing; as you change in unforeseeable ways, the best life you envision will change as well. For now, it’s important to use the process, create your vision, and take the first step towards making that vision a reality.

    Featured photo credit: Matt Noble via unsplash.com

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